How Michele Bachmann can help mainstream Republicans avoid their worst 2012 nightmare
I wrote Monday about the steady, quiet decline of Sarah Palin as a credible candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The evidence: new polling that puts her popularity — and her standing among other ’12 prospects — at an all-time low, this coming several months after prominent conservative commentators began raising doubts about Palin’s electability and political judgment.
Even more data is out today, this time in a survey from CNN, and once again it shows Palin stuck in the middle of the GOP pack, with 12 percent.
The spin, if you’re a Palin devotee, is that the CNN poll — and most of the other recent surveys — is skewed because it includes Donald Trump, who is almost certainly not running (and who is tied for first place with 19 percent). It also includes Mike Huckabee, who has seemed an increasingly unlikely candidate (although he is now apparently talking to potential fundraisers). So maybe Palin’s support will return to the high teens/low 20s, where it was until the last few months, if and when Trump and Huckabee leave the stage.
I suspect that it won’t be this easy for Palin, though.
For one thing, as I noted Monday, it seems that much of the conservative establishment that made excuses for Palin for her first two years on the national stage woke up after last November’s midterms, when Palin-ish candidates cost the GOP several winnable statewide races. Realizing that Palin could do the same to the national party in 2012, they began criticizing her in ways that had previously been unthinkable. And when Palin was condemned for her response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, many on the right joined the pile-on. Even if Trump and Huckabee fade from the scene, this dynamic figures to endure.
And there’s another problem for Palin: Michele Bachmann. The Minnesota congresswoman appeals to the same subset of conservative, Tea Party-friendly Republican voters as Palin — and while Palin has faded somewhat from view recently, Bachmann has sent strong signals that she’s serious about seeking the GOP White House nod. In today’s CNN poll, Bachmann sits at 5 percent; in an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released last week, she was at 6 percent. She’s also raised some serious money: more than $2 million for her PAC and for her House campaign committee in the first three months of this year (this after raising an astounding $13 million for her House reelection bid in 2008). Bachmann is not the international celebrity that Palin is, but within the conservative activist community, she’s a rock star.
All of this, ironically enough, makes her very useful to the Palin-phobic Republican establishment. No, they don’t think that Bachmann has some magic November formula that Palin lacks. Give them truth serum, and rest assured that most bottom line-oriented Republicans will admit that Bachmann would be general election poison for their party in a national election. (In fact, some of them don’t even require truth serum; note the dismissive attitude toward a Bachmann run exhibited by California Rep. David Dreier in a recent Politico interview.)
But that’s the beauty of a Bachmann candidacy: Nobody seriously believes she has a chance to win the GOP nomination. The establishment has seen candidacies like hers before, fringe ideologues with devoted followings — and clear ceilings on their support. The best-case scenario for Bachmann is that she somehow tops a splintered field in Iowa’s caucuses (where cultural conservatives hold disproportionate sway). But even then, the rest of the party would quickly rally around her most broadly acceptable (and viable) opponent. The obvious parallel is to 1996, when Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary with 29 percent of the vote — then watched the other 71 percent of the party flock to Bob Dole in panic. Thus, the GOP establishment has high confidence that it can contain a Bachmann candidacy, if need be.
What Bachmann can do, though, is steal attention, money and votes from Palin — potentially closing down whatever remaining victory scenario exists for the Alaskan. It’s unclear from the recent polling exactly where Bachmann’s support is coming from, but if you add her totals to Palin’s, Palin’s support would be back in the high teens, closer to where it was throughout 2009 and 2010. Plus, if Huckabee declines to run, a fair number of his supporters will likely be tempted by Bachmann. If Bachmann ramps up her activity and launches a full-blown candidacy, it could give Palin pause; her numbers are already plummeting — would she really want to enter if Bachmann is threatening to eat into her base (and maybe, in the end, eclipse her as the national face of female conservatism)? Alternately, Palin could plow ahead and run anyway, in which case Bachmann (assuming she stayed in the race) would serve as a drain on her support.
Either way, Bachmann’s presence is a net plus for establishment Republicans. She’s one more insurance policy against a Palin nomination — and there’s really no chance that she’ll somehow win the nomination herself.
(For what it’s worth, I appeared on MSNBC Tuesday morning to talk about Palin’s declining ’12 prospects. The video is below.)
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- Portland's senseless war on fluoride
- Graphic video reportedly shows possible London machete attack suspect
- What economists get wrong about the jobs crisis
- Ted Cruz: "I don't trust the Republicans"
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Glenn Beck: "The American people have just been raped"
- "Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine"
- Corporations accused of wrongdoing win battle to keep identities secret
- Weak, incompetent Democrats blow another one
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Cyber attacks could cause the next world war
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- Biden cracks Obama teleprompter joke
- IRS official takes the Fifth: "I have not done anything wrong"
- Lessons from Lincoln leave gay immigrants behind
- Los Angeles elects first Jewish mayor
- Peter King: There's "hypocrisy" over aid by Oklahoma senators
- Anthony Weiner announces run for NYC mayor
- How policy nihilists in the Senate doomed LGBT immigrants
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11